Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Space Wolf Tactics: Skyclaws

Unit Name: Skyclaws
Unit Type: Fast attack Unit, 5-10 man squads of jump infantry.
Construction: Using some space wolf heads, torsos and arms from the space wolf pack sprue and an assault squad or by using jump packs with the space wolf pack sprue.

Unit Deployment: Either in reserve or behind cover.

Unit in play: Fast hitting combat unit.
Unit is most effective against: Low toughness units in close combat.
General Discussion:
Every forum I read says that a Space Wolf army has to be comprised of a limited selection of units from the codex. I don’t think that is a great way to approach building an army, firstly it makes it very easy for opponents to figure out your strategy as it’s the same as every other cookie cutter army out there and secondly it stifles inventiveness in how armies get played. What do I see Skyclaws doing in my army? To answer this question let’s look at what is said about the unit and run through all the bad and good points about it.

What does everyone say about Skyclaws?
Conventional wisdom screams that they are the poor cousin of Blood Angels and Codex Space Marines assault squads. These same voices point out that since they have lower stats for weapon skill they must be so much worse in combat. The final nail in their coffin is that they cannot shoot before charging if they do not have an attached Independent Character.
While there is a discussion to be had about Wolves versus Vanilla Marines I find comparing Blood Angels to either is like comparing apples and oranges. Blood Angels now use their assault squads as the backbone of their army, whereas the other two codices do not allow for the same strategy. The role we look at for assault marines and Skyclaws is that of close combat harriers, they aim for soft targets like troops or heavy support infantry. While they can’t always wipe out weak units in one round of combat they can do enough damage to cause them to fall back. Unfortunately neither of them is designed to deal with close combat monsters or tar pit units like a Mob of Boyz. You should use these flying brawlers not as a hammer to smash opponents but as a feint so you can slam a dirk into their side. 

What do they do badly?
Skyclaws are weak at shooting; this is their supposed fatal flaw. Their Headstrong rule will prevent you peppering the enemy before you charge unless you have an attached Independent character. Even when allowed to have a normal shooting phase the amount of fire that they can bring as a squad is not inspiring, a few pistols shots and a special weapon pack little punch.
Their weak shooting profile would be an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a Space Wolves army and that the amount of heavy firepower you can bring to bear from other units should cover any shortfalls. The unit has the ability to have a single optional weapon, either a flamer, plasma gun or a meltagun. This is one major contrast with a vanilla assault squad, Skyclaws can only ever have one special weapon but they can have a greater range to choose from.
A plasma gun has no place in the squad, if you are in sight of a unit you would be better off running for cover or out of their line of sight then letting off a shot or two. If you choose the flamer you will never get to make use of it as the possible assault range is longer than the template. I would avoid the meltagun entirely, while it would seem like a good choice to take allowing you to pop heavy armour this can be done more effectively by your long fangs as at 6” you will have to forgo your shooting phase. The only way to make real use of the meltagun would be to deepstrike the unit beside a choice target. However this will leave the squad in open and unsupported, power armour is good but it cannot stop everything.
The plasma pistol is the final option and I think it has little merit in the squad due to its limited utility and points cost. So yes a unit that is designed to be all about combat is terrible at shooting and its options for ranged attack should be ignored.

You can get around the headstrong rule but only by joining an Independent Character to the unit, this is a big let-down with the Skyclaws. Bloodclaws may have an attached Wolf Guard to calm them down but despite many FAQs that option has not been extended to Skyclaws. This is a sorely missed option as you have no access to meltabombs, other useful wargear choices and a leadership bump that Wolf Guard could add to the unit.
The only independent characters are in the HQ section so let’s run through those. Wolf Lords or Battle Leaders are a waste as they should be on heavier assault squads as they offer little augmentation to the unit’s performance. Rune Priests are not a close combat unit’s friend as they offer little to improve their abilities and I find that they are hands down the worst combat unit in the army.
The recommended option is to add a Wolf Priest to the squad, this would not only let the squad shoot before charging but it would give them Fearless and Preferred Enemy against a unit type.  While all of those buffs sound great I don’t think this is the best choice for your army as you can fit in seven more Skyclaws for the price of a Wolf Priest. Fearless is now an always useful ability but since the new edition I am not sure it is worth the cost of a priest. Preferred enemy is now a waste of points, since the ranged and close combat attacks you would re-roll are much less than the attacks put out by the second unit of skyclaws you could have bought instead. As I see it take the unit by itself, it may not be fearless but it can still do a good deal of damage.

Is there anything they do well?
The assault phase is when these bad boys shine because they hit hard and get +2 attacks on the charge. Firstly let’s address the elephant in the room, the lower Weapons Skill. It actually doesn’t reduce the efficacy of the unit because you will still be rolling a 4+ to hit in most combats, the drawback is that it makes them easier to hit. The pack will take a pounding in combat against equivalent units. The fact is that by sheer weight of numbers Skyclaws will deal enough damage to the enemy to more than even up the score.
The squad has more options than bloodclaws when it comes to close combat weapons. They can take mark of the wolfen and a power fist or power weapon to improve their death dealing abilities. Mark of the wolfen in this unit is quite an asset; getting 4 to 9 rending attacks on the charge makes it well worth the investment. The other boon of this underprized gem is that it also allows the squad to make a go of taking out a 2+ save model.
The power fist is only good on the first turn as the model is back to his base single attack afterwards. The power weapon has an improved dimension this edition. Since armour is harder to crack putting an axe into a unit has distinct advantages. With an axe you would have 4 attacks on the charge with strength 5 and an ap of 2. This can let you tackle terminators and their like but the rest of the unit would be torn apart doing so. What I think might be the best option is a power maul as it gives you +2 to strength and you strike at initiative.No matter what other options you choose the mark of the wolfen is a mandatory choice.

Skyclaws are the cheapest jump pack troops in power armour you will find. For the price of a tooled out Blood Angel squad you can have 14 Skyclaws throwing out twice the number of attacks. The options they have available are limited but the ones I recommend are great value.  When it comes to jump infantry in general three are some benefits to including them in your army. Then nature of assault charges have changed to be more random, having a unit that can re-roll its charge and get an extra hit in while doing it can be very useful. This can prove important when you need to close down a unit but cannot afford to be caught in the open. The downside is that if you want the hammer of wraith and the re-roll on your charge you can only move like infantry.

The real question is should I even bother with this fast attack choice when I have the option of thunderwolves. Thunderwolves are expensive, they are hard hitting and do a lot of damage for sure but even the smallest monster wolf unit that you see being fielded is more expensive than a fully loaded squad of skyclaws. Thunderwolves fulfil a very different position to that of jump infantry and have very different limitations and abilities. While thunderwolves excel at breaking units, they do have small numbers of troops and are just as vulnerable to power weapons and the like. In general I think for a cheap option with decent points to power ratio the skyclaws are the way to go, if you want to deal with armour and heavy hitters take the thunderwolves.

 So what do I think of skyclaws? They are a decent choice, another aspect of your army and if you use them properly they can fulfil an important role. Leave the shooting to Long Fangs and Grey Hunters, these boys are here to kick ass and take names. I would use them as a reactionary force by keeping them close to the main body of your troops. The claw pack can make the lightening moves, after that they should hold the enemy for a turn which would allow you to move up the rest of your army and really tear them apart. They can also move along cover and dispute objectives in the late game which is incredibly useful considering how many games involve objectives in the current edition. If you meet the guy that brought the skyshield in his army having something that can get on top of it and do some harm is always going to be worth it. So yes I am saying it clearly, Skyclaws are a good unit.

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